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Seven activists, five of whom are journalists, on trial in Morocco

Vaguely worded legal provisions are being used to gag free speech and press freedom defenders

This statement was originally published on on 17 November 2015.

Reporters Without Borders calls on the judicial authorities to drop all charges against seven activists, including five journalists and writers, whose trial on charges of “endangering state security and integrity” and receiving “illegal foreign funding” is due to begin on 19 November. Some are facing up to five years in prison.

The five journalists and writers – Maati Monjib, Samad Ayach, Maria Moukrim, Rachid Tarik and Hicham El Mansouri – are all reporters or regular contributors to such Moroccan media outlets as Lakome2 or Zamane. They are also all members of the Moroccan Association of Investigative Journalism (AMJI). The other two defendants are Hicham Khreibchi (also known as Hicham Al-Miraat), who is the ex-director of the Digital Rights Association (ADN) and Mohamed Essabeur, who heads the Moroccan Education and Youth Association (AMEJ).

According to our sources, the authorities accuse them of failing to adhere to the requirements of journalistic “accuracy” and “ethics” and sullying Morocco's image in their articles.

“The Moroccan authorities must urgently end their political and judicial harassment of journalists, which aims to discourage all criticism,” said Yasmine Kacha, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Maghreb desk. “The charges against these journalists and human rights activists must be dismissed if Morocco is to comply with its international obligations, including the obligation to protect freedom of expression and information under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

To gag these free speech and media freedom defenders, the authorities are resorting to vaguely-worded legal provisions with heavy penalties. For example, according to our information, the “endangering state security” charge was prompted by articles critical of the government, including one by Monjib posted on the Orient XXI website on 30 March.

Ayach's articles for Lakome2, which were also very critical of the government, and a report about the Moroccan government's surveillance methods, which ADN and Privacy International published in June and which we supported, are also the targets of the article 206 charge, which carries a possible five-year sentence.

AMJI president and former Le Matin's journalist Tarik and former AMJI president and editor in chief of Moukrim are facing possible fines of 1,200 to 5,000 dirhams on a charge of violating article 8 of the law that regulates NGOs. The charge apparently aims to curb training by AMJI, whose 2014 action plan included training in investigative journalism and awards for the best investigative reports.

Government harassment

Mansouri is currently serving a 10-month jail sentence on a trumped-up adultery charge imposed on 30 March. Reporters Without Borders condemned the trial's irregularities and called for his release in a statement on April 2015.

Monjib and Ayach were both banned from leaving the country in the past few months – Monjib in june and Ayach in September. Monjib got the ban lifted after going on hunger strike for more than 20 days. Samad will be outside of the country on the 19th as he will be taking part to a workshop on citizen journalism.

Last month, Reporters Without Borders published in September 2015 an overview of the current state of media freedom in Morocco and the pressure to which journalists are exposed, especially if they defy the government “red lines” on covering subjects that are still highly sensitive, such as Islam, the monarchy and Morocco's claim to Western Sahara.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Amid wave of defamation cases, CPJ joins call for Morocco to drop charges against press

    That these suits are brought by government officials is cause for particular alarm. International standards oppose criminal sentences for defamation offenses and hold that public officials should withstand a higher level of scrutiny because of the public interest in open debate about public figures and institutions.

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